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tv   Washington Week With Gwen Ifill  PBS  May 25, 2013 2:00am-2:31am PDT

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counterterrorism, credibility wars, movement on immigration, and disaster politics -- tonight on "washington week." >> from our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions we are making will define the type of nation and world that we leave to our children. gwen: the president defends his approach to a new world of war, pledging to limit the use of drones and close the prison at uantanamo. meanwhile, the i.r.s. remains under fire. >> i did not lie, sir. >> you lied by omission. you knew what was going on and you knew that we had asked -- you should have told us. >> i answered the questions. i answered them truthfully. we were not politically motivated in trging conservative groups. >> iffer not done anything
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wrong. i have not broken any laws. >> drip, drip, drip. very day there's something now . gwen: the senate moves, oh, so slowly, on immigration reform. and in the wake of a devastating tornado in oklahoma, the debate in washington turns to who pays for the recovery? >> what i don't want to do is help the career politicians pad their pockets. gwen: decision and zeebt. coveringle -- the week, doyle mcmanus of "the los angeles times," dan balz of "the washington post," fawn johnson of the "national journal," and charles babington of the ssociated press. >> award-winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens.
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live from our nation's capital, this is "washington week with gwen ifill". corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> we went out and asked people a simple question. how old is the oldest person you've known? we gave people a sticker and had them show us. we learned a lot of us have known someone who's lived well into their 09's, and that's a great thing. but even though we're living longer, one thing that hasn't changed, the official retirement age. the question is, how do you make sure you have the money you need to enjoy all of these years? >> additional corporate funding for "washington week" is rovided by boeing. additional funding is also provided by the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to your pbs stations from viewers like you. thank you.
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once again, live from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. we're frequently alerted in advance when the president is to deliver what the white house calls a major address. yesterday's national security speech in which he tackled longstanding criticisms over how we prosecute wars, target threats, and imprison suspects, ctually was one. chief among its themes, a defense of the administration's program using drones to target enemies. >> remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes. so, doing nothing is not an option. gwen: the -- the president also demanded congress allow him to close the prison at guantanamo bay. john mccain, at least, agreed with him. >> in light of the president's speech today, we will pledge
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our willingness to work with the president of the united states to see that guantanamo is closed. gwen: so what, if anything, did this speech change, doyle? >> actually, gwen, it did change a couple of things, which sun usual because we often cynically look at a speech and say it's just words, not going to change anything. first, proop changed the rules for targeted killings for the drone war. until now it was a pretty brood dr. broad rule. a suspected terrorist who was a threat to american interests. now it's a tighter rule. it's a continuing and imminent threat to americans. that doesn't cover somebody who might be, for example, a threat to the the government of yemen, which had been the case before. the president said there has to be a near certainty that there won't be sirble -- civilian casualties. he did say he would lift his
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mooretorium on sending guantanamo bay dedanees back to emen. the president himself had pulled that back after the underwear bomber in 2009 because of fears yemen wasn't stable enough. he can do that on his own. then the president tried to change the framework of the war on terror and get us to tchi -- think about what happens when the war actually ends. that's a broad one the >> i was curious about the timing of it. why were we having this speech? is it a nagging problem or a problem that the wormed is looking at? >> it's a whole bunch of cumulative loose ends, if you like. a whole bunch of pieces of the legal framework of the war on terror that have gotten out of sync with where things are now. but a lot of it comes from the thact -- fact that i think proop -- president obama is deeply uncomfortable with the
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fact that he started out as a civil libertarian and still thinks of himself that way but somehow he's the guy that escalated the drone war, is being accused of causing civilian casualties, still holding detainees in guantanamo four years after he pledged to close it down the incidentally, that's one thing that's probably not going to change. even if guantanamo is closed, those people are supposed to move here. >> that raises the question, doyle, on, he enusiated it as a candidate and then clearly was in -- unable to get it done. what has prompted him to come back to this? it suggests the prospect for doing it are not any better significantly and it has stuck
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in his craw. and that hunger strike at guantanamo. the president and white house aides like to walk around this problem, but the fact that you have dozens of detainees at guantanamo who have already been cleared for release some as long ago as the bush administration and they're stuck there, no path to get out, no way to appeal, led them into the hunger strike. the hunger strike is an untenable situation. it's been a remarkably discuss -- successful hunger strike in the sense of comb -- compelling not just our attention but the president's attention. >> one thing that came across in the speech was how forceful the president has been, particularly in his use of drones. the investigations into the media play into this? >> you're right. this is all of a piece. if you wanted to look at barack obama's approach to the war on
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frism in general he really did spend moat most of his first term proving how tough he was and the increased drones was part of that and in a expense the leak investigations were part of that. more leak investigations under this administration than any previous administration and the most recent case against jim rosen of fox news in which the justice department named him as is something or the administration threatened to do but only the justice department has done it. that last seems to have crossed a stort -- sort of trip wire for the president. he sort of told eric holder what the outcome of that investigation ought to be. >> except he empowered his attorney general to investigate himself, which is not always going to work very well. we're going to move on to
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another nagging policy problem -- targeting of the political sort, at the i.r.s. the official in charge of the mess took the fifth rather than testify before congress, then as placed on paid leave. but the uproar continued, and in the end, you could be forgiven for not knowing who to trust. with all the shifting accounts surrounding this, is government losing the credibility war, dan? >> well, i mean, gwen, there are a lot of angles from which you can look at this i.r.s. scandal, but that's clearly one of them. even before this we know that the trust in government was at a low ebb. the pew research center did a survey a month ago that -- that said the trust in government was at or close to its historic lows. that was all before this. i had a conversation with president-elect obama in december 2008. and one of the things i asked him was, in essence, do you think your election meant there say greater receptivity to
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bigger government and more activist government? he said at the time i don't think it's a question the of bigger or smaller government. i think there is skepticism of government that's baked into the system since ronald reagan on -- or before. it's a question of smarter government. if you look at things today i think you have to say he's failed that test. you have the i.r.s., the defense department under scrutiny because of sexual assaults they've not been able to bring under control, the benghazi matter and the lax security. you are you are -- you have a variety of problems with ethical, managerial or other flaws that the public are seeing and they don't have a lot of confidence that the government is going to do good things or the right things. >> seems like there are a lot of things we don't know about the scandal about the i.r.s.
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including why these people in cincinnati did what they did on the tax-exempt applications. what have we learned and what do you think the chances are that they will be answered? >> i think the big vazquez doctor questions are still as unanswered as they have been from the beginning the we know what happened. we know there was targeting of conservative groups. the claim is that this was all demun the cincinnati office. we had hearings this week before house an senate committee. we had the former commissioner of i.r.s. testify. the former acting commissioner testify and lois lerner give a statement, but we did not really learn anything further about how this all transpired. i think until that begins to come out and we hear from more people i think there are going to be a lot of questions, legitimately asked, about how it happened because people are rightly skeptical that there wasn't some kind of political motive.
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it may have been ineconomy -- incompetent but why against the president's opponents? gwen: and i was curious, should the president have known about this? >> it's a really good question. gwen: the chief of staff knew about it and the white house counsel knew about it but they didn't think it was worth telling him. >> which we didn't know until this week. all we were lead -- led to believe is that the counsel' -- counsel's office had gotten a general heads up that something was coming. but we learned they got more than that, and she shared that with senior officials in the white house and they collectevly decided that the president shouldn't know. their argument is that there was no reason to tell the president because until the report was done and filed there was nothing he could do and it might put him in a compromising position of making it look like
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he was trying to interfere. a talked to people in previous strations and -- previous administrations and they said did the white house coup owe this to the president? they said it would have been wise for dennis to go to the president quietly and simply say, heads up, this is coming, there is nothing to do about it now but we need to be ready for it because it's going a cause a big problem. gwen: but thep he wouldn't have the plausible deniablity of saying he knew nothing about it. >> i under but on the other hand they might have reacted more forcefully and quickly. they spent three days before the president went out to express any disapproval of what happened. >> and in the meantime they're trying to prove a negative, that is didn't happen. they can't get their stories
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straight. are they ready to play hardball? >> based on this week, no. we had a story in the paper the other morning that began "the white house changed its account of" thus and so. any time you have that, you have a bad situation. under the circumstances i think their crerblet doctor correct is still being questioned. gwen: thanks, dan. if you're one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the u.s. and seeking a way out of the shadows, there was ovement this week. after a senate committee approved a comprehensive immigration reform bill, there as rare bipartisan praise. >> although neither republicans nor democrats will support each and every aspect of this legislation, it is gratifying the momentum behind the reforms that will make our country safer and help 11 million undocumented imgrasp get right with the law enforcement >> i think the gang of eight has made a substantial contribution to move the issue ford -- forward and so i'm hopeful that we'll be able to
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get a bill we can pass here in the 1234589 gwen: both sides are keeping an eye on numbers like these -- in a new "washington post" poll, 58% of americans said they support a path to citizenship. so, have we turned a corner, fawn? >> yeah, i think we have. we saw some unusual bi partisanship among the senate leaders. it's not often -- often you see harry reid and mitch mcconnell saying they would like to move forward. um saw the massive cheers that went up when they reported out the bill the gwen: yeah. when's the last time pat leahy cheered something? >> exactly. and as the members were uttering their closing remarks, a lot of them complimented leahy on how he conducted this markup. it went on five days, some of the days were 13, 14 hours,
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very long. the advocates were very respectful. some sat in the room with children for the entire time. i was very impressed with that. so yes, this was a really good move forward for the congress in general. but it's only the beginning. and as much of a corner as we've turned there is a brick wall that can be run into at any point. gwen: there were sticking points along the way? >> yeah. so the kinds of questions that came up in the markup, we'll see them again on the floor of president senate next month and then we'll see them definitely in the house. they involve largely border security. there is very little faith among the skeptics that president promises of increased border security are actually going to be kept and that's something we saw in the house later in the week with the chairman of the house judicial -- judiciary committee, bob goodlatte, asking if there was anything in the bill that actually requires them to do
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all the bill requires. do the other question was illegal immigrants get welfare benefits or any health care benefits? that has become an extremely emotional debate. we have to deal with that. thep on the other hand they have the gang. the gang is putting their own deal together. theaf a -- they have a deal, they don't have a deal. they have a deal, and they don't have a deal. there is a lot to have happen but it was still a very good moment for congress. >> talk more about the benefits problem. where is that in the senate bill? is that something that could derail the whole thing? >> i wouldn't have said so until this week. i thought this would be a any hurdle for derailing the legislation but the problem is since the passage ever the affordable care act, it is a government program and the idea is in concept if you are going to give a bunch of these
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undocumented immigrants legal stat urks a gift, you -- they shouldn't be taking something else from the government. the problem is are you not going to allow them to get emergency care, for example? you can't do that. that's against the law. the next question is are you not going to allow them to buy their own health insurance on the exchanges? and what do they do then? they're starting to work that out. you are starting to see particularly among the democrats in the house, protesting, saying wait, you are going way too far out of the realm of immigration and into the health care law enforcement >> in the senate committee right up to the last minute there was suspense about a provision we that the leahy might truce -- introduce about a benefit for same-sex couples? >> that was probably the most emotional part of the markup. the chairman had this bill for
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a long time, it would allow same-sex partners to sponsor their prns. it was very important but the people responsing the bill for a long time have said all along it's a deal breaker the leahy talked about the misdemeanor, then he did not offer it. the other democrats on the committee offered these huge apologies to the gay and lesbian communities about this. but keep in mind we're still waiting for a supreme court decision on the dves marriage act, which could clarify things. the other interesting point is that there are almost 260,000 undocumented gay or lesbian immigrants in the country. one point that immigrant advocates are making is those guys will be helped extremely just by the legalization in this. gwen: and remember, guess what, it still has to get through the
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full senate and the house. we'll be watching that as well. hurricanes, tornadoes, super storms, and oil spills may be unpredictable, but washington's response almost always is. the president will visit moore, oklahoma, this weekend, while some members of congress debate the limits of disaster relief. using last year's new jersey and new york disaster as an example, oklahoma senator tom coburn put it this way. >> the sandy supplemental had $40 billion worth of money that's going to get spent that wasn't an emergency, that's going to get spent two to five ears from now. tws a politician's christmas tree to do things. it was a stimulus built gwen: nobody wants not a politician's christmas tree. but why can't they have a christmas tree? anyway, chuck, why did this become a nooble >> the field was set four years ago really with the birth of the tea party and an intense, sustained focus in congress on deficit spending the so you had
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a lot more conservatives especially in the house that -- who made an issue over and over, all types of things, are we going to keep doing things on the government credit card or pay for those -- these things? then october last year super storm sandy hit the east coast, did a tremendous amount of damage. there was an immediate and understandable call for help from the federal government. in the past, gwen, these things usually weren't that controversial. if they needed to appropriate more money, you just did it, put it on the doifers. this time a lot of conservatives said no, we need to stop doing this and they were bothered by other things. gwen: including conservatives from oklahoma? >> exactly that became a huge issue and after a lot of wrangling and bitter feelings within the republican party, the sandy bill coburn you talked about was passed in
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january. a lot of people on the east coast felt it was too late. now we have the oklahoma disaster rekindling this debate. >> how divide are republicans over this in >> they are divide. you had this very bitter division over sandy because there are believe it or not some republicans in the northeast. peter king was the mean -- main one the and governor christi got a lot of attention, good or bad for how -- accepting the help from obama. and i don't think is going to go away any time soon the it's split geographically when the storms come in but a lot of republicans are now on the record as being against funding these without finding cuts somewhere else. gwen: the democrats? can they ride it out in >> the democrats have no
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problem with this. they say look, this has been a long tradition in congress and it's a proper tradition the but you look at oklahoma, a very conservative state arks --, and conservative governor and chris ri welcoming the federal aid -- gwen: oklahoma is mary falin? >> and the democrats say there you go, you republicans complain about the spending, but when you fleed it you want it and don't make apologies. >> although give credit to senator coburn who has against it on sande and i against it for his own 125eu789 but other traditions have gone by the board. >> believe it or not, used to be they would raise the debt ceiling with maybe a little bit of fussing back and forth but it used to be an expected thing. the minority party used to vote to confirm the president's nominees to all kinds of cabinet level positions and supreme court. we're seeing these types of bes -- bipartisan traditions
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fall by the wayside time and again and i don't see how we are going to go back to be the more friendly, bipartisan kind of congress the gwen: if people are suffering that might be the touchstone the also we don't know what is going to happen with sequestration. >> we're going to see these debates over and over. gwen: yeah. well, thanks, everyone. before we go tonight, we have sad news to share. we've lost a member of the "washington week" family. haynes johnson, a long-time panelist and retired columnist for "the washington post," assed away this morning. haynes was a pulitzer prize winner, a best-selling author, a teacher, and our friend. here, during a 1989 "washington week" appearance, he drops a bit of prescient knowledge about how the world would come to view ronald reagan. >> i think reagan as he recedes will be seen as both a much stronger president and a president in which there are many more consequences to come from. the debts you talked about, the idea that you've made america
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feel better but there are enormous debts to be paid yet to come. the country unprepared maybe to deel with the education, the environment, all of these, they've been postponed and they're coming up very much in the 1990's. gwen: as usual, he was completely right. sthks, haynes. and our condolences go out to his wife, kathryn. stay tuned on pline for more of our round table conversation at pbs.org/washingtonweek the and our respect to all who have served. have an observant memorial day. good night the -- good night. >> corporate funding for wolfpack swook provided by -- >> tora bora. fallujah.
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argon. idway. normandy. medina ridge. the chosun reservoir. these are places history will never forget. but more important are the faces we will always rebecca. always remember. >> additional corporate funding for wolfpack swook provided by prudential. additional funding is provided by the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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